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  1. Buy fresh seeds every year because parsnip seeds are not viable for more than about one year.
  2. Parsnip seeds need consistent moisture from when you sow until they germinate. This is critical because if your soil dries out at any point, newly germinating seedlings may die. Keep soil evenly moist, but not wet.
  3. Parsnips grow best in rich, loamy garden soil. Crooked or forked parsnips are caused by hard, compacted soil or if they were sown too thickly and not thinned out.
  4. Experiment with sowing a small amount of radish seeds in with your parsnip seeds. Radishes sprout and grow much faster than parsnips, making it easier to see the row. Thin out or harvest the radishes before they compete with the parsnips.
  5. For the sweetest parsnips, harvest after frost. Cold temperatures cause parsnips to convert starches to sugars. In medieval Europe, parsnips were used to sweeten baking and desserts before sugar was widely available.

Parsnips are high in vitamins C, K and fibre. Check here for detailed information from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

The Canadian Food Guide recommends that roughly half of the food on your plate should be fruits and vegetables.

Canada Food Guide: What's On Your Plate?

Growing outdoors

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Parsnips prefer to grow in sandy, sandy loam or loam soil and ideally in raised beds. They do best in rich soils amended with compost or well-composted manure. In heavy clay soils, grow parsnips on raised beds of soil.

Since parsnips are poor competitors, keep weeds pulled throughout the season. This is especially important when they are young. Do not plant parsnips in an especially weedy spot. See our articles on weed control to reduce weeds and weed seeds.

Parsnips need full to partial sun for best growth. They are not suitable for partial shade or shady areas.

Parsnips are best grown outdoors in the ground, either in raised beds or unraised/ground level gardens if the soil is suitable. They can be grown outdoors or indoors in containers (details below) although this is less practical due to their long taproots and need for full sun. They are not typically suitable for most hydroponic, straw bale, or other alternative growing methods.

Parsnips should be direct seeded into their growing area. Transplants are not recommended.

Parsnips are a cold-season crop but have long number of days to maturity, so direct seed as early as possible. 

The timing of planting should coincide with your frost-free dates. We've given suggested dates below, but you can adjust these to your local conditions. Parsnips can be sown 1 - 2 weeks before your last expected spring frost date if you choose. Early sowing works best on raised beds.

  • Knowing the last expected spring frost date for your location will help you plan when to sow seeds. The date is based on averages and varies according to where you live – it is as early as mid-May for Saskatoon, Estevan and Swift Current, SK, while Yellowknife is May 30 and the Moosonee region in Manitoba is June 10. Find the date of the last spring frost at this link: Click on where you live on the map.

In general parsnips take from 110 - 150 days from seed to harvest, depending on the cultivar. This is usually listed as "days to maturity" on the seed packet.

  • Saskatoon has around 130 frost-free days throughout the spring and summer for plants to grow. In Yellowknife, you can expect around 111 frost-free days. Check your seed package for your days to maturity or days to harvest information and compare it with your local average frost free days.
  • The frost-free season is the total number of days (on average) when there is no frost. It starts on the date of the last frost in spring and ends on the date of the first frost in fall. To find out the length of the frost-free season where you live, click on this link and find your location on the map: 
  • Note that these are current estimates and we expect our growing season to get warmer, longer, and drier as our climate continues to change.


  • Parsnips must be planted directly into the garden from seed. They can be slow to germinate and prefer warm soil temperatures. The ideal soil temperature for seed germination is 20˚C (seeds germinate in 10 - 21 days).  It can take as long as 3 - 4 weeks for parsnip seeds to germinate at a soil temperature of 10˚C.
  • You can pre-warm your soil to sow seeds earlier - see: Warming soil in your garden using plastic mulch but be mindful of weeds.

Planting instructions

  • Parsnips need good soil contact and consistently moist but not wet soil throughout germination. Seeds will germinate faster in warmer weather, but they will also dry out faster. There are several ways to keep your seeds moist throughout germination. 
    • Plant your seeds according to the seed package (likely about 1 cm deep) and water often enough to keep your soil moist but not wet. Depending on your soil and weather, water once or twice daily.
    • Or: Sow your seed on top of the soil and then cover the seed with moist vermiculite. Cover this with a layer or two of damp newspaper, damp burlap or a light board to help conserve the surface soil moisture.  Monitor the covers and remove them as soon as seeds germinate (ie: when you see a green plant) to allow emerging seedlings to grow. 
    • Or: Pelleted seed refers to seed that is covered with an inert clay material.  Pelleted seed is slightly larger in size than bare seed, making it easier to handle.  The clay material around the seed also helps to retain moisture during seed germination. Seed tape is seed that has been sandwiched between sheets of thin paper. You can buy seed tape or make your own. Seed tape is easier to plant and the paper does hold some, but not a lot, of moisture. Whether you're using pelleted seed or seed tape, you still need to keep your soil moist using either option above. To make your own seed tape see: How to make your own seed tape
  • The ideal layout for parsnips depends on your gardening method and cultivar. In general, we suggest:
    • Typical yield, low intensity. Planting in rows and harvest once: Typically done where there is not ample water or high-quality soil. These are probably similar to the directions on your seed package. Plant your seeds about 2 cm apart. Once plants germinate, thin to about 8 cm apart. If you're planting your whole garden in rows with walking paths between each row, remember that parsnips are relatively thin so you can probably plant two rows of parsnips about 8 cm apart per row. Either way, mulch your pathways. Harvest full-size parsnips in the fall.
    • Higher yield, lower intensity. Plant in a grid and harvest once: Typically done in raised beds with high quality, loamy soil and good water access. Sow your seeds in a grid pattern, each seed about 7-8 cm apart. This works out to about 16 plants per square foot. For a large garden, you can include mulched walking paths between a row of grids for accessibility. In smaller spaces, you can constrain your beds to be about 1 to 1.5 metres wide so you can reach from either direction. Harvest full-size parsnips in the fall.

Don't forget to label what you planted. It's also helpful to draw a map to help you track planting locations and success each year. This information is critical if you're rotating your crops to help prevent insect and disease issues.


Parsnip cultivar recommendations:
  1. Here are cultivar recommendations from the North Dakota State University Cultivar Trials, as they share a similar prairie climate and soils. You may download their list here: North Dakota State University Vegetable Cultivar Recommendations for 2021
      •  (no information available for parsnips)
  2. The following cultivars are recommendations from the University of Saskatchewan vegetable program field trials which were conducted from 1989 through 2016. it useful.
    • Harris Model
    • Andover
    • Arrow

Other cultivars worth trying:

  • Javelin
  • Albion
  • Hollow cream improved


  • Parsnips compete poorly with weeds especially in younger stages, so stay on top of weeding and consider mulch for pathways. Besides weeding, parsnips are typically low maintenance plants.
  • Providing you have enough moisture during the germination phase, parsnips can be grown successfully most years without additional water though you can expect smaller parsnips as a result. Water will affect yields, so if you're using more intensive growing methods you will need to water.
  • Actively growing parsnips prefer 2.5cm moisture/week in well-drained soils.
  • Excessive soil moisture will promote root rot.
  • Hill soil around plants to cover shoulders, to prevent greening of the top of the root.

Parsnips are less likely to succeed for fall seeding on the prairies due to their slow germination rates, sensitivity to inconsistent moisture, and inability to compete well with weeds when young.

See: Fall seeding


Forgot what you planted? Not sure if it's a weed? Germination in carrots, which look similar to parsnips.

See our preservation section for more videos.

Parsnips need about 130 or more days from seeding to maturity. They are slow to germinate but are tolerant of frost when mature. Parsnips may be difficult to grow in northern parts of the prairie provinces, sub-arctic and arctic regions with a short number of frost free growing days.

Raised beds are recommended. Prepare a raised bed, which is simply a mound of soil higher than the natural grade, which may be framed or unframed. Raised beds tend to warm up faster than level ground in spring which enables you to sow seeds earlier.

Once the snow has melted, lay a sheet of clear plastic on top of the soil. Studies show that clear plastic works better than black plastic to warm soil. Be sure to anchor the edges so the plastic does not blow away. Remove the plastic before planting. See: Warming soil with plastic mulch

Mulch soil after seedlings emerge. 


Growing in containers

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Parsnips are not a practical choice for growing in a container outdoors or indoors because of their long roots and need for cooler soil.

If you want to give it a try, select a large, very deep container with drainage holes in the bottom. Parsnips need lots of space for the smaller feeder roots that grow out of the main edible root, so make sure your container is deep.  A 5-gallon pail is a good choice, preferably one that is white or light coloured to keep the roots cool. Fill with a soilless potting mix. Sow seeds according to the instructions on the seed packet. Keep seeds moist until they germinate. Thin seedlings as they grow.

See: Vegetable container gardening

Growing indoors in a container is possible, but also not very practical. Since parsnips need lots of sunlight, supplemental lighting would be needed. 

See our Growing indoors page for detailed growing advice.

For containers, choose a shorter parsnip like Javelin.


Saving seeds

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Seeds are expected to be shelf-stable for one year from date of sale if purchased from a reputable retailer. If you wish to save your seeds beyond that, store them in a sealed jar in the fridge. Seeds lose viability more quickly if they are too humid, too dry or too warm.

The life expectancy of parsnip seed stored under favourable conditions is one year, so it's best to purchase fresh seeds every year.

Seeds stored under less favourable conditions will show poor germination after just a single year of storage. Beyond this, you can expect your germination rates to go down (ie. not all of your seeds will grow, but some might). To test your seeds, you can do a simple germination test. Follow the link for instructions. If you are still getting some seeds germinating, seed more thickly and thin any extra.

We do not recommend saving seeds from parsnips. Parsnips are biennials. This means that they do not produce flowers in their first year's growth. Instead, parsnips will collect energy in the form of natural sugars and store it in their taproot during the first year's growing season.  In climates where parsnips can successfully over-winter, parsnips will use the energy stored in their tap root to produce flowers and set seed in their second year. Although parsnips become sweeter with frost, the roots will lose flavour and become bitter after flowering and setting seeds. Two year old parsnip roots also do not store well. In some pockets of the prairies, with sufficient winter protection, a few parsnips left behind may set seed the second year though this is increasingly unlikely as you move further north. As our climate continues to change, this may become a viable option for prairie gardeners in the future.


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  • Maturity time from seed to harvest is about 120 or more days depending on the variety and environmental conditions such as weather.
  • Parsnip leaves contain compounds that can cause skin rashes in sensitive individuals. This can be prevented by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and gloves when harvesting.
  • Parsnips can be harvested at any time but for the best flavour, leave parsnips in the ground and harvest after one or more frosts which causes the carbohydrates in the root to convert to sugar.
  • Mature parsnips with tops intact can be left in the soil as long as the soil remains unfrozen (-1˚C or warmer). This means you can probably harvest parsnips into October depending on the year, or into November with season-extending options.
  • Some prairie gardeners have reported success with over-wintering parsnips in the ground and harvesting the parsnips the following spring. Apply a thick layer of mulch (at least 15 cm or deeper) on top of the plants in late fall just before the ground freezes to increase your chance of success. Straw or leaves would be a suitable mulch. (Keep leaves in place with a covering of burlap anchored at the edges.) Remove the mulch in spring and then harvest. 

In loose soils or containers, you may be able to grasp the parsnip by the top and, with some wiggling, pull it from the soil.

In firmer soils, you may need to use a garden fork to loosen the soil near the parsnips and then pull it from the loosened soil. Parsnip roots can be very long, so deep digging may be needed. It may help to water two days before harvesting to soften firmer soil. 

The skin of vegetables protects it from bacteria. If you intend to store your parsnips, store only the ones that have not been damaged during harvest and eat or cook those that were cut or heavily scuffed.

Once harvested, gently brush soil off parsnips for long term storage. Don't scrub the parsnips as the soil will scratch the protective coating on the outer skin. For long term cold storage, you can store parsnips "dirty". If you want to store them in the fridge, soak your parsnips in the sink until you can gently rub off the dirt.

Parsnips have a low respiration rate and store very well. While it is important to keep them cool during harvest, as it is with most vegetables, it isn't critical.


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Parsnips can be stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator for several months. If you're hoping to store them longer than a couple of months, check the long term storage information.

  • Ideal storage conditions for parsnips are near 0˚C with high humidity. Your fridge is likely a few degrees warmer than this, but that's fine. As they age, your parsnips will give off extra moisture. To maintain adequate but not excessive humidity either poke a few holes in your bag (ok), or use a plastic bag meant for vegetables (better), or keep a few sheets of paper towel in the bag with them and switch the paper towels for new ones once they become too moist (best).
  • Remove tops and excess soil before storage. If you must wash parsnips before storage, wash gently:  new wounds will encourage bacterial rots. If you're only storing for a few weeks to a few months, you can likely wash your parsnips. We do not recommend cutting the parsnips at all as damage to the skin will encourage bacterial growth. This is why it is best practice to leave parsnips unwashed for longer storage.
  • Do not store apples in the same location as parsnips.  Ethylene from apples will cause bitter flavours in parsnips.

You may be able to store parsnips longer than a couple of months following the short term suggestions, however, spoilage is more likely with time. 

Leave about 2 cm (1 inch) of greens on your parsnips to prevent shriveling. Gently brush off excess soil. Place vegetables in a single layer on cardboard or newspaper. Set them in a cool dry and dark place to cure or dry for a day or two. Brush off any remaining excess soil and get ready to store.

Washing is not necessary, in fact it’s better not to wash. Washing can damage the outer skin of the vegetable which can lead to rot and encourage disease like sclerotinia. Some like to wash root vegetables with cold water to remove the soil. If you do this, make sure that the vegetables are completely dry before you store them to avoid rot. They still need to be cured for a day or two before storing.

To decrease spoilage:

  • Ideal storage conditions for parsnips are 0˚C, 95-100% humidity.
  • See our cold storage page for detailed advice on finding a suitable storage location and choosing storage methods

Other preservation methods we recommend include freezing, fermenting, dehydrating (drying) or canning.

Cooking and preserving

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Preservation methods we recommend include freezing, fermenting, dehydrating (drying) or canning.

Parnips can be used in soups or stews and are especially good roasted (see below). Parsnips can be steamed and mashed for baby food.

There are recipes on the internet for ways to use parsnips in baking or even canning.  


Alternative ways to eat common vegetables



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Parsnips are relatively low maintenance. Providing their water, light and soil needs are managed they don't tend to get a lot of issues. Ensuring you don't crowd your parsnips and maintain healthy soil with adequate organic matter will go a long way towards preventing most issues.

Leafhoppers are an occasional parsnip pest. They reduce yields and can carry disease disease such as aster yellows. See:  If they are a problem, avoid growing parsnips near plants that attract leafhoppers (ex. weeds and forage legumes such as clover or alfalfa). You may also want to use row covers as passive insect control.

Wireworm can be a problem for parsnips especially if growing in a newly cultivated garden that was previously in grass or pasture. To test for wireworm, place small carrot or potato pieces, buried 10cm deep, throughout the area you plan on planting. After three or four days, dig up the carrot pieces and count the number of wireworms. If you find an average of one or more wireworms per station, damage to the coming potato crop can be severe. Plant other crops instead for the first couple of years. Wireworm problems tend to decline with time, as the wireworms move out of the garden and into other preferred food crops such as grasses.


See the Common problems tab on this page for advice on other specific parsnip issues.


Common questions

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Research and student activities

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